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McManufactured Controversy

Posted on 22 June 2011 by dana1981

NOTE: this is a sister post to IPCC Report on Renewable Energy, regarding the manufactured controversy associated with that report

Self-proclaimed climate auditor Steve McIntyre has managed to manufacture a controversy out of the recently-published IPCC Report on Renewable Energy (SRREN), based on the simple fact that one of the nine lead authors to its Chapter 10 (and 272 contributors to the report) works at Greenpeace, and was the lead author on the most aggressive renewable energy scenario referenced in the report (77% of global energy demand met by renewables in 2050).  McIntyre's criticism is the very definition of ad hominem - suggesting that the report is flawed because of who wrote it, rather than its contents.  In fact, McIntyre goes well beyond criticizing the report:

"Everyone in IPCC WG3 should be terminated and, if the institution is to continue, it should be re-structured from scratch."

While we're still trying to figure out what ad hominem attacks have to do with climate auditing, McIntyre jumps the shark and asserts that all of the hundreds of contributors to the WG3 reports should be terminated because one of the lead authors – an energy expert who has published peer-reviewed research on the subject – works for Greenpeace.  And unfortunately, a few other influential figures (i.e. Mark Lynas and Anthony Watts) have bought into McIntyre's glaring logical fallacy.

Fortunately some other popular climate bloggers have more accurately written about this non-controversy (i.e. Michael Tobis, Joe RommThe Carbon Brief, and The Policy Lass).  Ultimately what this boils down to is that the paper in dispute (Teske et al. 2011) had five other co-authors (all energy experts) and was published in a peer-reviewed journal.  Moreover, as discussed in the IPCC Report on Renewable Energy post, the conclusion (77% of global energy demand can be met with renewables by 2050) is not even the most aggressive published plan.  There have been a number of studies and reports concluding that meeting 100% of energy needs with renewable sources by 2050 is feasible on both a regional and global level, as we discussed in the Advanced rebuttal to "Renewables can't provide baseload power".

Now, it may be argued that the 77% goal is not politically realistic, but the IPCC report did not and cannot evaluate political feasibility.  It can only examine technological and economic feasibility, and high renewable energy penetration goals meet both of these criteria.  However, it should also be noted that while the report itself is technically sound, there are some valid criticisms of the associated press release, as summarized well by The Carbon Brief.

One final irony is worth pointing out: while one contributor to SRREN came from Greenpeace, three came from Chevron (though one from its geothermal research wing), one from Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica, and one from a mining company.  In fact, one of Teske's co-authors on Chapter 10 of the report was Raymond Wright from Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica.  Somehow we haven't seen any complaints over his conflict of interest.  Apparently McIntyre et al. have something of a double standard on this issue.

Until the "skeptics" and "auditors" can come up with substantive scientific arguments rather than empty logical fallacies, it would behoove those of us who understand the magnitude of the climate problem and importance of addressing it (like Mark Lynas) to simply ignore these manufactured controversies rather than magnifying them.  Manufactured controversies can't change the laws of physics.  Reality remains unchanged; we need to begin taking major steps to reduce GHG emissions immediately, which will require major penetration of renewables into the energy production mix.

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Comments 51 to 63 out of 63:

  1. 50, Eric the Red, On temperatures, follow the link I supplied. I didn't say they were merely warm because it's summer. That would be silly. How foolish do you think other people are? UAH temperatures yesterday were just a hair short of the 2010 level, and above all other temps since 2002, under ENSO neutral conditions. On sea ice, follow the link I supplied. Don't go by a simple graph that does nothing but display the sum of the areas of ice with 15% or greater. Look at how far back the southern line has retreated, and how many areas are above that 15% mark, but clearly breaking up and vanishing. Look at the holes. Look at the details. Go to the North Pole Web Cams and actually see the melt ponds forming a week or two earlier than normal. You are not listening. You are denying, down to the very last detail. Weather is definitely fickle, but climate is not. You can blame extreme weather on random variation for only so long. This may be a year that makes you finally sit up and take notice. It may not. It may be next year, or the year after. But unless thousands and thousands of very well educated and invested thinking people have it all completely wrong, then you are wrong, and you will sit up and take notice. It's inevitable.
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  2. TC at 45, couldn't agree more. This is yet another example of the double standard of deniers (can't call them skeptics any more). Why has no skeptic protested against the inclusion of Raymond Wright? Just more nonsense from McI to fuel a non controversy and fool the gullible who buy his snake oil. It is obvious to anyone who has a bit of sense and has observed McIntyre's actions that nothing but the worst propaganda tactics can be expected from him, again and again.
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  3. 52, Philippe Chantreau - McIntyre may be highlighting this matter based on a double-standard but his arguments as written are not dependent on it. Yes, Greenpeace and the Jamaican Oil Industry were represented equally by lead authors but only one of these had their paper highlighted in the chapter they authored. Now, there may not be an issue with this. As dana1981 replied earlier there are good reasons why the Teske ER-2010 scenario would be picked, though I wouldn't say it is necessarily an automatic choice. I think if it was shown by the minutes that Teske was able to promote his own scenario using his position as lead author then questions should rightly be asked. As things stand McIntyre is just engaging in sensationalist speculation, as is his wont, but that doesn't mean there definitely isn't an issue.
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  4. Raymonds Wright's report was not highlighted when the claim that 77% of global energy demand can be met with renewables. As paul emphasized, there may be good reason why the Teske scenario would be chosen, but to include Teske in the decision making process is a definite conflict of interest. Lead authors do not peer-review their own papers or submit papers in their own sessions, so why should this report be an exception. You would think the IPCC would take extra precautions in light of the IAC criticism of the IPCC for conflict of interest issues.
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  5. Some insightful and interesting comments thus far, the general gist seems to be that this is pretty much a storm in a tea cup. Just some of my own observations about this latest manufactured scandal: 1) I find it incredibly ironic that Lynas is accusing others of conflict of interest and driving their agenda, when he is clearly upset that the Teske scenario did not include nuclear. Lynas is a big advocate of nuclear, and him openly making false and misleading statements about the special report and then erroneously generalizing those to apply to the whole IPPCC on an issue that he has an axe to grind is nonsensical. 2) It should be clearly apparent to most reasonable and informed people by now that McIntyre and his associates are hell bent on bringing down the IPCC, and that they are willing to do so no matter what it takes. Really, McIntyre is nothing more than a cheerleader for conspiracy theorists and those in denial about AGW-- just read the Lynas thread or the threads at WUWT or ClimateAudit. This is how it works, McIntyre or someone else like Morano or Monckton make an unsubstantiated accusation of nefarious goings on, and it is then amplified and trumpeted around the world by all to willing people like Bolt, Delingpole, Gunter, Curry etc. Mission completed. And only then do they start looking into the matter closely and trying to weed out whatever scarps they can find to support their initial allegations, which by now are a well-established myth in the denialosphere. 3) It seems to have escaped McIntyre's attention that there were several FF industry people on the panel, and ignoring whatever influence they might have had. It is also lost on McIntyre and Lynas that many individuals and groups had to sign off on the report. This ultimately boils down to people being opposed to renewables period and reducing our GHG emissions, or opposed to the manner in which we reduce our GHG emissions (do we include nuclear or not), and/or trying to destroy the IPCC. It is incredibly disappointing that Lynas has tied his bandwagon to conspiracy theorists like McIntyre. Hopefully Mark Lynas will very soon see how he got this all so wrong and that by pursuing his own agenda, he ended up actually furthering the agenda of the conspiracy theorists and those in denial about AGW. Hopefully it is also an important learning moment for him too. I will say this though, the IPCC need to become a lot more street wise and they need to sharpen up on their media relations and public relations. This is no mean feat, because they will never (and I really do mean never) be able to appease people like McIntyre or Morano or Inhofe . So it is a bit of a fool's errand, but at the end of the day much improved PR and media relations cannot hurt. Pity that they do not yet really have the resources and means to do so. Finally, this must all come as a very welcome distraction and break for McIntyre, who has been implicated in the Wegman scandal.
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  6. "52, Philippe Chantreau - McIntyre may be highlighting this matter based on a double-standard but his arguments as written are not dependent on it." Oh, sure, just as his mountain-from-molehill "auditing" efforts of climate science papers don't rest on his double-standard of never scrutinizing denialist papers. He's cleverly dishonest. There's no way the IPCC, working scientists, etc can fully protect themselves from clever dishonesty. As I said earlier, you live in a fantasy world if you believe that anything the IPCC or the climate science community does will change things one iota.
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  7. Albatross - I mostly agree with your post, but this: "3) It seems to have escaped McIntyre's attention that there were several FF industry people on the panel, and ignoring whatever influence they might have had. It is also lost on McIntyre and Lynas that many individuals and groups had to sign off on the report." assumes honesty on McIntyre's part (i.e. if he had noticed, he would've highlighted it) and good journalism on Lynas's part. I'd say that the evidence is strongly against either assumption. Of course, maybe you were just being sarcastic ...
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  8. 54 - I'm going to disagree with you as well Eric, disagreeable chap that I am. The 77% figure was highlighted simply because it is the highest. There is no conflict of interest issue there. Perhaps there's an issue with an outlier being given so much attention but that's a different matter. About lead authors reviewing their own work, it's simply an unfortunate fact that there are only a limited number of people qualified to write reports on these specialist topics and most of those will have published work for consideration. While it may be technically a conflict of interest for a lead author to review his/her own work it's unavoidable in many circumstances.
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  9. The most ironic thing about McI. is that his own paper does not withstand scrutiny when computer code is released and examined the way he claims should be done for all these evildoers like Mann and Jones. See the link I provided earlier to the analysis of the miserable piece of propaganda called McIntyre & McKitrick and the appending dismal work by Wegman. These people giving lessons on honesty, conflict of interest or integrity in science is about the most pathetic joke ever.
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  10. paul, In a 3-judge court, one judge will excuse himself if a conflict of interest is present. To say that there are not enough people qualified is a straw man. There is no reason why he had to take part.
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  11. Pauls @58 is correct. People arguing against that have not worked in disciplines when there are not a great number of experts to draw on. We try and avoid it of course, but sometimes it is neigh impossible.
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  12. Lynas continues to post blog entries about this and hasn't backed off a bit. Somebody posted a link to this post there and he did not respond to it. The general commentary on his blog now is deniers asking why he didn't read and get the "message" from the hacked emails, that he's on the way to becoming one of them. I don't know if that will happen or not, but that is who is now posting to his blog.
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  13. An interesting take on the McControversy is that provided by Teske, who concludes:
    "Finally, while it’s certainly flattering that Mr Lynas thinks that Greenpeace has the power to “dictate” IPCC conclusions, it is a great pity that he doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that the IPCC chose to include the findings of Greenpeace, the EREC and the German Space Agency in The Energy [R]evolution for one very good reason - because hundreds of energy experts from different backgrounds, considered it a good, realistic and useful piece of research. If Mr Lynas has a problem with these findings, he should clearly demonstrate his issue with them, rather than simply trying to claim that some crude conspiracy theory is at work."
    This, I think, goes to the heart of the issue. Let's assume that Teske did in fact argue the case for using the Teske et 2010 Advanced Energy Revolution scenario (as per Eric the Red 54). That only calls into question the choice of that scenario if we assume the other ten primary decision makers on chapter 10 (the two Coordinating Lead Authors, and the other eight Lead Authors) where ciphers, that the where sufficiently gullible, and incompetent in their field of expertise to be fooled into accepting an inferior scenario just because one of their number had a vested interest. Indeed, we have to assume this even though at least three of their number had a vested interest in number had a vested interest in not accepting that scenario. The three are Raymond Wright (economic interest in the fossil fuel industry), Makoto Akai (professional investment in carbon capture and storage which does not feature in the Advanced Energy Revolution Scenario), and Leon Clark (joint author of alternative scenarios). That is not a plausible assumption. The only plausible conclusion is that Teske's participation did not significantly influence the choice of the fourth scenario.
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